Pittsburgh Pirates fall to Houston Astros as Locke struggles


7. 4. Final. 13. 135

Pittsburgh Pirates’ second baseman Neil Walker hit a towering home run, but it was not enough to overcome a very rough outing from rotation-hopeful Jeff Locke as the Pirates fell to the Houston Astros by a score of 13-7 in Grapefruit League action on Tuesday.

Locke clearly did not have his best stuff from the onset. He gutted his way through three very rough innings, in which he allowed six earned on seven hits – one of which was a Jason Castro home run that likely sealed Locke’s spot in the bullpen rather than the starting rotation to open the regular season.

The Astros rode a particularly devastating fourth inning to quickly put away any chance of a jolly roger being raised.  Deolis Guerra had replaced Locke on the mound after Locke gave up a walk and a single to start the frame.  Guerra did not fare much better, walking Astro hopeful Robbie Grossman after getting the first out.  From there, the floodgates opened, with George Springer connecting on a double to score two that mercifully closed the book on runs charged to Locke.  The Astros would score three more runs before the inning was through.

The Pirates’ lineup consisted of many projected regulars, headlined by Josh Harrison leading off, with Gregory Polanco batting third as a presumable stand-in for Andrew McCutchen, who is still nursing some lower body soreness.  Walker hit in the cleanup spot while Pedro Alvarez and Jordy Mercer manned their familiar sixth and seventh spots, respectively.  Jaff Decker got an outfield start to make up for McCutchen’s absence.  Pedro Alvarez went 1-for-2 with a sac-fly RBI.

More from Rum Bunter

When it comes to Clint Hurdle‘s plans for the order when the games matter, perhaps it was most telling to see Starling Marte bat in the fifth spot.  Hurdle was quoted as saying that Marte will be used as more of a ‘run producer’ this season, and the fifth spot was specifically mentioned in this piece from the Tribune Review’s Travis Sawchik:

"“He can be a run creator and a run producer. I see him as a run producer,” Hurdle said. “He’s not going to hit cleanup. So (fifth) is probably close.”"

Marte was 0-for-3 on the day, as was Polanco.  Despite a lukewarm spring by Polanco, national media remains bullish on the young Pittsburgh Pirates outfield, as evidenced by this piece from ESPN’s Jayson Stark which outlines his reasoning for bestowing the honor of “Best OF in baseball” to the young Bucco trio.

Andrew Lambo got an RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth, showing some much needed offensive life in his quest to make the big-league club when the team heads north.  The Pirates actually worked the bases loaded after Lambo’s triple, but Francisco Cervelli grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the rally.  Cervelli was 1-for-2 for the day with one run and a walk.

A three-run seventh pulled the Pirates closer, but Houston got two of the runs back in the top of the eighth, putting the game out of reach for Pittsburgh.

What Stood Out:

The standout storyline from this game begins and ends with Locke.  Going into the game, it was very likely that he had already lost the Vance Worley has all but won the #5 spot in Pirates’ Rotation” href=”https://rumbunter.com/2015/03/16/vance-worley-spot-rotation/”>final spot in the starting rotation to Vance Worley.  If there was any doubt left as to this result, it left town just as quickly as Castro’s home run left McKechnie Field.

Locke now figures to join the team as a long-reliever out of the bullpen and a spot starter when needed. So far this spring, the left-hander boasts a 9.00 earned run average.

What’s Next:

The Pittsburgh Pirates will stay at McKechnie Field to welcome in the Detroit Tigers at 6:05 p.m. EST.  A.J. Burnett will pitch for the Bucs, and will be opposed by Shane Green of the Tigers.  The game will be televised on ROOT Sports.

Next: Vance Worley has all-but-won the #5 spot in the rotation